On the evening where West Ham honoured legend and record appearance holder Billy Bonds, two West Ham central midfielders gave the Irons a 2-0 victory over Newcastle United.
Could it ever have been more fitting for Declan Rice, a versatile young defender and midfielder who came unheralded from another London side, and Mark Noble, maybe the closest modern day throwback to a player of Bonds’ ilk, to score the goals that gave West Ham a comfortable win in front of a full home crowd?
Embed from Getty Images
Manuel Pellegrini made five changes from the side that narrowly lost to Manchester City in the week, with Cresswell, Noble, Snodgrass, Hernandez and, making his first start of the season, Manuel Lanzini in place of Johnson, Obiang, Antonio, Carroll and Nasri respectively.
Unsurprisingly, the approach of the side was much changed too, with more control on the ball and more attacking intent than at the Etihad on Wednesday night.
The game started comfortably, with little incident, the passing triangles of Lanzini, Anderson and Snodgrass giving signs of optimism for fans to enjoy early on.
And that ease of play early on was rewarded from the first corner of the game. Won down the right by Noble, Snodgrass whipped in a wonderful, vending corner onto the six yard line.
And it was the figure of Declan Rice who rose highest and most prominently to nod the ball easily into the back of the net and give West Ham a one nil lead after 7 minutes.
It was Rice’s second West Ham goal, and one that was watched by England Assistant Manager Steve Holland.
A collision of heads brought the game to a five minute halt, maybe suitable in a game where Billy Bonds was honoured with a stand now officially named after him. Cresswell, playing with a broken toe, crashed heads with Newcastle’s Javier Manquillo and both men saw blood pouring down their faces.
West Ham’s passing in close and tight situations continued to flow, Lanzini drifting beautifully between midfield and attack in a way that seemed to be inspiring the footwork of the midfield around him.
At the back, Issa Diop was putting in a fantastic performance, stopping attacks before they could really become dangerous and looking imperious up against Rondon, in the air and on the ground.
Embed from Getty Images
Fabianski's first action was to catch an aimless cross on 22 minutes, with the best Newcastle moment being a deflected shot falling to Perez who was a mile offside.
Meanwhile there were glimpses of the much-hoped-for connection between Lanzini and Anderson, both called up for their countries this week.
Cresswell’s fight against injury was short lived, with Arthur Masuaku replacing him after 33 minutes in a very stop and start first half. It was a half with more yellow cards than chances, with Longstaff, Schar and Noble picking up relatively routine bookings.
But from Longstaff’s ill-timed challenge, West Ham were given a chance to double their lead. Anderson, after the now standard one-two setup, floated a free kick from the right to the back post, where it missed everyone but Hernandez.
The Mexican took the ball down fantastically and dribbled to goal, beating his man before being sliced down for a very easy penalty decision.
After a little delay, Mark Noble stepped up and put West Ham two goals ahead, hitting the roof of the net to beat the Newcastle ‘keeper and make the scoreline as comfortable as the first half had been.
The half ended with a Newcastle corner, and the wonderful performance of Diop was again highlighted. First he won the header away, but then as it was returned into the box, it was Diop who followed Schar drifting behind the lines and made a block that prevented a clear goalscoring opportunity.
Embed from Getty Images
The second half started with no changes for West Ham and former Hammers player Mo Diame coming on for Longstaff in the middle of Newcastle’s midfield.
It was the away side who had the first sight of goal of the second half.
Ayoze Perez allowed to drift towards goal too easily, combining with Rondon to get in behind the back line but hit a shot that drifted weakly wide of the far post.
The half was calmly controlled. West Ham were comfortable in possession without creating much, whilst mostly comfortable when Newcastle had the ball in their attacking third. The pace of Masuaku and Fredericks became more obvious weapons, allowing West Ham to spring forward quickly.
Two half chances fell to Hernandez from the full backs.
First, a Fredericks cross was driven and bouncing to the backpost and Hernandez did well to get some connection, but not enough to threaten.
Then Masuaku dug out a cross to the far post and Hernandez drifted off the shoulder off his defender to take it down, but his touch wasn’t good enough and he was forced into too tight an angle to do more than hit the side netting.
With 20 minutes remaining, the striker was replaced by Marko Arnautovic, probably having done enough again to keep his place in the starting eleven.
Whilst subdued, Newcastle were still alive in the game and had made little openings around the box that could have ended better. West Ham were a little lucky that a good Rondon header cannoned away off Masuaku’s head when it could have nestled away.
Embed from Getty Images
Diame’s driving runs from midfield had changed the dynamic in the middle and caused problems, his power and grace a mix of elegant and clumsy like it ever was. Benitez had also pinned Perez, Rondon and Almiron high up the pitch, which worked to push West Ham deeper and allow Newcastle onto them.
There were echoes of the Fulham game, with West Ham not pushing to end the contest with a decisive goal, happy to soak up pressure.
Pellegrini’s final substitution confirmed this, with Obiang coming on for Noble with ten minutes remaining. It also meant a full 90 minutes for Manuel Lanzini, great news for how he’s progressed on return.
But as much as West Ham May have desired it, Newcastle wouldn’t let the game just drift to finish.
Almiron broke down the left and fired across a great ball to Rondon. From near eight yards out, Rondon spun to hit a first time shot at goal, but the brilliant Diop threw himself down to block the effort and stop a near certain goal.
It seemed to wake West Ham up a little, a counter attack following shortly, led by Anderson, supported by Lanzini, Arnautovic and finally Snodgrass, who tried an audacious backheel after Lanzini was tackled in the area. It would have been an ingenious goal if it had not been blocked.
A minute later, Arnautovic and Lanzini combined and the Argentinian was fouled right on the edge of the box. Snodgrass took the effort, but dropped it meekly over the crossbar.
At the other end, Rondon did much better from a close-range freekick, rattling the post from the left side.
In the end, West Ham took the three points with a good 2-0 win, the first team outside the top six to beat Newcastle at home this season.
Embed from Getty Images
Finally, the London Stadium seemed to be a place West Ham were using to their advantage, not having lost at home since December and this the first time they had ever gone five games undefeated at the stadium since moving.
The win pushed West Ham into 9th, three points ahead of Everton in 10th, four ahead of Leicester in 11th. It keeps the chase for 7th open too, with Watford one point ahead in 8th and Wolves for ahead in 7th.
A deserved win, the injuries easing up helping the squad manage games with a strong bench and many options in the side in a key period of fixtures.
Lucasz Fabianski (7) Commanded his area well, otherwise pretty much untested. Highlight was dribbling round Rondon.
Ryan Fredericks (7) Calm and assured, whilst bombing on well. Seems comfortably first choice, which would have been unthinkable a few months ago.
Aaron Cresswell (6) Did well in his short spell but only got half hour.
Issa Diop (9) Formidable, only foot wrong was a challenge late on that got him booked. Multiple interceptions, tackles and blocks that stopped chances.
Angelo Ogbonna (9) Played exceptionally well, one of three contenders for man of the match. Only outshone by Diop due to how crucial some of the Frenchman’s contributions were.
Declan Rice (9) If it was a chance to compare youngsters Rice and Longstaff, Declan won every round. Passed forward excellently, broke up passages of play in the middle, headed in the first goal.
Mark Noble (8) Took his penalty brilliantly, but otherwise he was doing very well to support both Rice and also the right side of the attack.
Felipe Anderson (7) Lovely freekick, good combinations with Lanzini, but also a little subdued. Hasn’t been in sparkling form lately.
Manuel Lanzini (8) Controlled the ball for West Ham and was a delight. Final product still missing as rust comes off. Must be a joy to play with, always offering and creating a passing opportunity for a teammate on the ball. 97% pass success on 63 passes.
Robert Snodgrass (7) Unmatched engine, working hard out wide and centrally. Good corner gets him another assist.
Javier Hernandez (8) Won the penalty excellently and his movement in and around the area was good. In a tight game, his penalty area threat wins points. A fascinating player to rate, as he can be anonymous but turn matches.
Arthur Masuaku (7) (Replaced Cresswell) A good return to the side, used his pace well going forward and made some good interceptions in defence, with his head especially.
Marko Arnautovic (6) (Replaced Hernandez) Put in the work, counter attacked well and linked with Lanzini. Given the captain’s armband by Noble as the captain was replaced.
Pedro Obiang (6) (Replaced Noble) Came on and sat deep with Rice. Did fine, did what he came on to do.
Adrian San Miguel del Castillo (0) Did not play.
Samir Nasri (0) Did not play.
West Ham United: Lucasz Fabianski, Ryan Fredericks, Aaron Cresswell, Issa Diop, Angelo Ogbonna, Declan Rice, Mark Noble, Felipe Anderson, Manuel Lanzini, Robert Snodgrass, Javier Hernandez.
Substitutes: Arthur Masuaku , Marko Arnautovic , Pedro Obiang, Adrian San Miguel del Castillo, Samir Nasri.
Goals: Declan Rice 7 Mark Noble 42
Booked: Mark Noble Issa Diop
Newcastle Utd: Dubravka, Lejeune, Schar (Dummett 65), Lascelles, Ritchie, Hayden (Atsu 79), Longstaff (Diame 46), Manquillo, Perez, Almiron, Rondon.
Subs not used: Darlow, Ki, Muto, Yedlin.
Booked: Longstaff, Hayden, Schar
Referee: Chris Kavanagh
Man of the Match: Angelo Ogbonna